With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, picking the right rom-com to see is crucial to setting the right mood. A Little Bit Of Heaven should be on the cards – and with Kate Hudson in the lead, things look particularly promising. But that’s where the love story begins to fade because she’s cast opposite The Motorcycle Diaries’ Gael García Bernal.
Although Hudson fizzles with vitality in that special way we love her for, radiating warmth through the screen, she seems to ‘burn out’ Bernal’s rather stiff appearance in every scene she shares with him, resulting in very little believable chemistry between the pair. The Latin love is simply non-existent. We fully understand and support director Nicole Kassell‘s brave attempt at casting actors in roles they’re not normally associated with – even Hudson’s character, Marley, a carefree advertising exec who discovers she has terminal cancer, alarmingly, loses her light and energy by the end. But it all feels like a futile attempt by Kassell that doesn’t sit entirely comfortably. It’s also unclear as to when Marley decides to change her staunch independent ways, and let a special man into her life, considering Bernal who plays her doctor, Dr. Goldstein (a Mexican Jew – yes, you heard correctly) makes virtually little effort in the chase, short of treating her, then inviting her to a cancer fundraiser. And hey, presto, they’re suddenly an item.
That said the film does redeem itself with the family/friends casting, including Kathy Bates as Mum, and Lucy Punch and Romany Malco as Marley’s best pals, who manage to blend the comedy with the tragedy with apparent ease, supplying the laughs and the tears in equal measure. Thankfully, they throw up some believable scenarios. Cliches aside, like the gay next-door neighbour (Malco), these characters each have some quality screen time with Hudson as Marley, so we understand their significance in her life, which is thoughtfully fleshed out. Plus they all nicely piece together in the colourful and positive surroundings of New Orleans, too.
The film has its wacky moments. For quirkiness value, there’s a dwarf gigolo (Peter Dinklage) who entertains Marley for an evening – perhaps, an effort by the writers to highlight New Orleans’ intriguing melting pot of characters, who knows? Whoopi Goldberg also drops in to play God, literally, like an extra straight out of a Philadelphia cheese spread ad in a bizarre heavenly moment of Marley reflection. Still, it’s fun to see her, and she gets a glass of champers out of it in the end – large dollops of cheese still present. These moments certainly add comedy value, but they do seem so random that they confuse matters and the film’s pace, at times, trying to blend reality with fantasy in a not too cohesive and convincing fashion.
Hudson is undoubtedly in familiar territory that she can navigate with her eyes closed, proving once more that she’s the ‘darling of rom-coms’. Hence her fans will catch this latest film anyway. She also demonstrates something new and more mature to her acting arsenal, like a latter-day Bette Midler in Beaches. It’s just a shame about leading man Bernal who, physically, just looks rather mismatched next to Hudson on screen – regardless of the age-old saying of ‘opposites attracting’. For such an accomplished actor, he just comes across as more ‘dud than stud’ in this.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie
(Follow Lisa on Twitter: @FilmGazer)